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FILM LOCATION ROAD TRIP: GAME OF THRONES, DOWNTON ABBEY & HARRY POTTER
The UK is home to some of the world's most inspiring filming locations, embark on a road trip through your favorite stories...
In recent years, cable television programs and feature films alike have relied on the rustic, unspoiled beauty of the UK countryside as the setting for epic fantasy and historical series like HBO's Game of Thrones, the BBC's Downton Abbey, and the Harry Potter series of films. Despite representing three completely different types of worlds, what each of these productions has in common is their ubiquitous backdrops, which lend each a sense of realism that simply can't be reproduced in any special effects laboratory.
And ever since these productions started, the majestic nature of their locations has been drawing thousands of fans every year to the actual locations where some of their favorite scenes were shot. If you're planning a trip to the UK, why not create a one-of-a-kind driving experience out of it by visiting some of your favorite shows the most important and easily recognized filming locations? With a luxury UK car rental from Auto Europe, you'll be able to see them all in style and comfort.
GAME OF THRONES ROAD TRIP DAY 1: BELFAST TO GLENARM
Your journey begins early in the day in Belfast, so make sure you choose a comfortable hotel when you arrive in the city a day earlier. You're going to be heading out on an 87-plus mile drive on the M2, the A2, and then the Causeway Coastal Route, so you'll also want to ensure you start your day with a well-balanced Irish breakfast, like the one offered at The Bakery, or Saphyre, or Cinnamon.
Seven miles past Larne near the village of Ballygally, you'll come across your first Thrones landmark - Cairncastle. And in perfect fashion, this is the very location where the series started off, as it is the spot where Ned Stark beheaded the Night's Watch deserter.
As you make your way into Glenarm, you'll no doubt recognize Glenarm Castle and the richly adorned Glenarm Forest Park. Meanwhile, local jeweler Steensons Jewelry Economusee has the distinction of having crafted some of the gorgeous jewelry seen on the show, including King Joffrey's crown.
GAME OF THRONES ROAD TRIP DAY 2: GLENARM TO BALLYCASTLE
Day two's journey from Glenarm to Ballycastle is 87 miles of pure driving bliss. Not long into your drive, however, you're going to come across Slemish Mountain. Most famously known for being the mount where St. Patrick once tended his sheep, the Slemish Mountain has more recently gained fame for being the site where Daenerys Targaryen and her army of Dothraki soldiers ride to Vaes Dothrak.
Your next stop is going to be in the coastal village of Cushendun. Here, you can take a walk into the actual seaside caves where the sorceress Melisandre gave birth to the shadow creature in season two. Then, it's on to Murlough Bay, which only takes 22 minutes along the A2. True fans of the series will recognize the road used by Theon Greyjoy and his sister on their way to Pyke.
The small village of Larrybane is your next destination. Here, you'll recognize the panoramic views, limestone cliffs, and gorgeous ocean as the site for several key scenes. Most importantly, this is the location where the scene in which Brienne beats Ser Loras in a tourney for a place in Renly's Kingsguard was filmed. This location is also where Renly swears to avenge Ned Stark's death, only to die at the hands of Melisandre's ghostly specter before he ever gets the chance. Another 16-minute drive west on the A2 and you'll enter Ballycastle, where you'll spend the evening before you start on your final day of travel.
GAME OF THRONES ROAD TRIP DAY 3: BALLYCASTLE TO LONDONDERRY
On day three of your Game of Thrones road trip, you will be driving a total of 86 miles as you go from Ballycastle to Londonderry. But you won't be driving far before stopping at your first location, Ballintoy Harbour. Ballintoy Harbour is the location used to depict the port of the Iron Islands, the spot where Theon Greyjoy returned home after his years at Winterfell. The nearby beach is where Theon was "baptized" into the faith of the Drowned God.
Meanwhile, just four short miles away is Dunseverick. It was here that Renly had his first encounter with the fire priestess, in addition to being the location where brothers Renly and Stannis met to discuss their rights to claim the Iron Throne.
Your next stop is less than five miles away in the small town of Bushmills. This is the home to the haunting avenue of trees known in the series as "The Dark Hedges." This was where Arya Stark escaped King's Landing while dressed as a boy.
Lastly, your Game of Thrones driving tour of Northern Ireland comes to a close in Downhill Strand. Here, you'll find the Mussenden Temple. The beach located below the iconic Temple was the location used to film the memorable scene where Melisandre burns the Seven Idols of Westeros. From there, it's a 50-minute drive along the A2 into Londonderry where you can regroup with a tasty pint, a hearty Irish dinner, and a good night's sleep.
DOWNTON ABBEY SHOOTING LOCATIONS: 3-DAY ROAD TRIP
Since it first aired on the BBC network, Downton Abbey has garnered global acclaim and legions of fans. One has to think that the show's settings had much to do with its success, and they wouldn't be wrong. But what may be surprising is that the elegant and stately backdrops used in the filming of the program are actually real places, and a good portion of them can be found in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. If you want to take a driving tour of some of the show's most identifiable shooting locations, then here's a three-day Downton Abbey driving tour that will be sure to delight you.
DOWNTON ABBEY ROAD TRIP DAY 1: BAMPTON
Bampton should be particularly familiar to Downton Abbey fans as this village is where most of the village scenes are filmed, especially the scenes on the streets. In fact, you'll notice a few key landmarks used in the show in Bampton. For example, the Churchgate House is the Crawley family home. The Bampton Community Archive and Bampton Library Building, which used to be the Town's Grammar School, doubles as the setting for Downton Abbey's Cottage Hospital. Meanwhile, St. Mary's Church in Bampton is what the show's makers used for Downton's parish church of St Michael and All Angels.
In truth, many of the town's actual pubs are used in the show's production, so after a day spent seeing the locations, you might very well end up drinking a pint in the same place as your favorite Downton character, especially if you chose The Grantham Arms or The Dog & Duck.
DOWNTON ABBEY ROAD TRIP DAY 2: SHILTON & SWINBROOK
On the second day of your Downton Abbey-inspired UK driving tour, you'll depart Bampton, taking the B4020 to Shilton. It's just two miles away from Bampton, so you'll be there before you get too comfortable behind the wheel of your luxury car rental from Auto Europe.
Shilton lies very close to the scenic Roman road known locally as Akeman Street, so while it's not related to Downton Abbey, it's still a worthwhile drive since you'll be in the area. As for your Downton Abbey filming location, Shilton is home to the Old Forge, which you might recognize as the Red Lion public house.
When you're ready to head to your next destination, Swinbrook, just jump back on the B4020 headed north until you reach Buford Road. Turn left on Buford Road, and continue until you reach A40. Turn left on A40 and then take the first right. Follow this road out and you'll eventually reach the small town of Swinbrook; along the way, you'll see some brilliant country estates and expansive farmlands.
Swinbrook is relatively small and despite it being a filming location for the hit series, it doesn't have much in the way of tourist amenities or accommodations. Therefore, to ensure you have a room and a hot meal ready for you, reserve a room well in advance at the Swan Inn.
And interestingly enough, the Swan Inn is exactly what you've come to Swinbrook to see because you'll soon recognize it as the inn where Branson and Lady Sybil stayed while they were planning their controversial elopement in the show's second season.
DOWNTON ABBEY ROAD TRIP DAY 3: COGGES & WITNEY
After a wonderful night of sleep in a Downton Abbey landmark, you'll point your UK car rental back out of Swinbrook the same way you entered and head to the A40, where you'll turn left. You'll soon come to a roundabout, which you'll take three-quarters of the way around to B4047. Eventually, B4047 will turn into B4095, and you'll take this road until you reach the turnoff for B4022. Turn right on B4022 and then right again on Cogges Hill Road and you'll arrive in Cogges, your final destination on your three-day driving tour of Downton Abbey sites.
In Cogges, which is just outside of Witney, you'll be able to see the old Victorian-era farm that was used in the production of the show as the Yew Tree Farm and the home of Mr. Drewe, the tenant farmer in the show's fourth season. A good many of the show's farming scenes were filmed in this historic spot.
Since Cogges isn't exactly prepared for tourists, you'll want to venture back to Witney once you're done taking pictures in Cogges. There, you can take a tour of the Wychwood Brewery, visit the Oxford Bus Museum, walk the Thames Path National Trail, or visit the historic Minster Lovell Hall.
Witney also has a good selection of eateries and pubs to choose from. The Eden Café is a great little place, while the Restaurant at Witney Lakes Resort offers a little more refined fare. If you want a cup of old English coffee, then a visit to the Coffeesmith is in order, or if you want something on the sweet side, then The Shake Shop has more than enough flavor combinations to keep you satisfied. Meanwhile, if you want to stay in a traditional English Inn on your final night in merry old England, then the Lamb Inn is a homey little inn and pub you might enjoy. The Old Swan & Minster Mill is another local favorite. Or, if you want to enjoy a Downton Abbey-like experience, then the majestic Eynsham Hall will probably be the perfect fit.
HARRY POTTER IN ENGLAND & SCOTLAND: 3-DAY ROAD TRIP
The Harry Potter books and the subsequent films made from the books' stories took the world by storm when they were released - and for good reason. The world created by J.K. Rowling was utterly fantastical, yet somehow still grounded in reality. This is probably because so many of the iconic locations used in the films are actual places in Scotland and England. Better yet, you can take a Harry Potter road trip across the UK and actually visit them. To that end, here's a three-day driving tour that will take you to from the Hogwarts Express, to Hogwarts' Library, to the Leaky Cauldron.
HARRY POTTER ROAD TRIP DAY 1: GLENFINNAN VIADUCT & GLENCOE, SCOTLAND
Your Harry Potter driving tour begins, aptly enough, in the same location where Harry's voyage to Hogwarts begins, near the Glenfinnan Viaduct on the western coast of Scotland. Here, you'll immediately notice the iconic bridge used by the Hogwarts Express. It's also where the flying Ford Anglia, being driven by Harry and Ron, lands in the Chamber of Secrets. If your visit takes place between May and October, you can even take a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train across the viaduct, sans the chocolate frogs, of course.
You'll leave Glenfinnan Viaduct via the A830, where you'll skirt around Lock Eil and past Fort William, where you'll then take the A82 to Glencoe. Here, you'll recognize the landscape, particularly that of the Glen Nevis. This is where the thrilling Quidditch scenes were filmed in all of the films, as well as the Tri-Wizard Tournament from the Goblet of Fire.
HARRY POTTER ROAD TRIP DAY 2: NORTHUMBERLAND & DURHAM
Day two will have you driving four and a half hours from Glencoe, Scotland to Northumberland, England. But the trip will be worth it, because in Northumberland, you'll visit Alnwick Castle, the site of Madame Hooch's flying lesson from the Sorcerer's Stone.
Another hour and a half drive south on the A696 and you'll come to Durham. Here, you'll want to visit Durham Cathedral. The cathedral's enchanting quadrangle was the site used for the scene where Harry sets the owl flying in the Sorcerer's Stone. It was also seen in the Chamber of Secrets when Ron's spell went wrong and had him vomiting up slugs. Visit the cathedral's chapter house and you might recognize it as Professor McGonagall's classroom.
HARRY POTTER ROAD TRIP DAY 3: OXFORD & LONDON
The third day of your driving tour will take you first to Oxford, and then to the ultimate stop in your Harry Potter Tour: London. In reality, London is home to so many different attractions, you may very well want to plan for several extra days so you can see the Harry Potter sites, in addition to more of what the city has to offer. But first, you'll have to drive the nearly five-hour route from Durham to Oxford via the A1 and M1.
Once you get into Oxford, you'll want to visit Oxford University so you can see a couple of noteworthy Harry Potter film locations, all in one spot. The school's Duke of Humfrey's Library was used to depict the Hogwarts Library, while the school's Divinity School, with its high-vaulted ceilings, served as Hogwarts' Infirmary.
Then, you'll enjoy another hour and a half drive on the M40 and A40 into London in your UK car rental, where you'll enter into the world of Harry Potter at three key locations. In Leadenhall Market, you'll find the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron in an optician's office in Bull's Head Passage. Then, visit the London Zoo's reptile house to see where Harry first discovers his ability to talk to snakes in the Sorcerer's Stone.